Article 5: Thanks for all the giving

From The Macon Telegraph

By Bill Weaver, The Macon Telegraph

WARNER ROBINS (Nov. 26, 2003) – Twenty years ago, as we prepared to sit down to Thanksgiving dinner, we did so with a 10-month-old baby asleep in his crib. His name was William Michael, but we called him Mike.

He was the second of our three children. After missing that first feast because he was too little, he had never missed another one. Until this year. Mike, a college student also working two part-time jobs, won’t be with us. He was shot and killed in August.

The three months since his death have been the worst of our lives. They’ve been filled by sorrow and anger, emptiness, and longings for the way things were. How suddenly we went from a wonderfully happy family to the depths of despair.

The climb from that hole has been a slow one. Negligible at first, but steady. Now three months later, the wound has begun to heal. We don’t cry as often, nor sleep quite so little. We can smile again, and go to work again. We can see Mike’s friends again, and now we can actually find the words to speak to them.

Every year around the Thanksgiving table we pause before we eat and ask everyone to say a little something about what they’re thankful for. For a few moments last week, it occurred to me that given what we’ve been through lately, this might be a bad year for speeches.

But it won’t be. Without the support of family and friends, we’d still be deep in that hole. All the cards. All the calls. All the visits. All the hugs. All the flowers. All the tears. All the offers of “if there’s anything I can do.” And, of course, all the prayers.

We’ve written many thank yous, with many more left to write. But try as we might to find just the right words to express just the right sentiments, we often fail. Some things just defy an adequate expression of appreciation.

Like the letter from a former boss, now 88 years old, typed with trembling hands. “My Parkinson disease is exacting an increasing toll,” he wrote after expressing his condolences. “Except for the computer I wouldn’t be able to have written communication. My long hand is non-existent. My signature on this letter, for example, is a rubber stamp of several years standing.” But despite his troubles, he finished that letter.

Like the ladies who hijacked our house when they heard the news. They cleaned, they straightened, they catered. They took care of us, and all who came to visit. My sister drove in quickly from Charlotte, anticipating that since she was the first relative on the scene she’d be expected to organize the confusion. Too late. “Who’s in charge?” she asked the ladies. “Nobody, really,” one of them said. They just did what needed doing. How do you adequately thank friends for that kind of concern?

Like the high school classmates who sent cards, even though we haven’t seen them in 35 years. Like the fraternity brother who called just last week, explaining he hadn’t called earlier because he didn’t think he could speak — he and his wife nearly lost their own son to drug addiction. Like the lady who brought Flintstones vitamins, explaining that when her daughter was sick — before she died — the vitamins were prescribed by a doctor because they helped the daughter keep her strength, so the mother had prescribed them for us.

How do you adequately thank a few school janitors for scraping together a few of their precious dollars for a memorial to a boy they hardly knew? Or the electrical workers who removed their hard hats when our funeral procession passed by? Or Mike’s baseball buddies who made car stickers in the color and shape of his old baseball cap? How do you adequately tell those hundreds of other people who said something nice, did something simple, or just gave us a kind thought, that no handshake went unfelt, no hug unappreciated, no word unheard.

We can’t reach them all, but we hope they know that by giving us those gentle tugs of encouragement, giving us a few moments of their time, they helped pull us through. They are proof that even in times of great sorrow, it is easy to be thankful.

So, despite the tears we’ll shed for the son or brother we’ll miss at this year’s table, we’ll be ready for our little speech. It’ll be about our thanks for all the giving.

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